Louisville City FC has won the last two United Soccer League titles and seems to be in position to make a run at a third.
With a solid 1-0 victory over St. Louis FC Saturday night before a crowd of 4,512 at Soccer Park in Fenton, the visitors (15-7-9) ran their unbeaten streak to 10 games (7-0-3) and again earned the upper hand in the King’s Cup rivalry between the squads.
STLFC is 11-11-9 but still holds a USL Championship playoff spot.
The teams played to a scoreless draw on May 18 in Louisville. But Louisville hasn’t lost since late July.
Louisville leads the King’s Cup rivalry 5-1-4 and has outscored STLFC 19-8 in league play during those contests. Not included is Louisville City’s 1-0 win over STLFC in the third round of last year’s U.S. Open Cup.
“I thought first half we showed them far too much respect,” STLFC coach Anthony Pulis said. “We were second to every ball, couldn’t show the quality and composure. We just looked flat.
“Give Louisville credit. First half, they played some fantastic football and showed why they’re back-to-back champions. Second half, we were better . . . . created more opportunities and on another night, maybe we walk away with a point. But they’re a really good side and I’m amazed they’re not higher in the league standings.”
The visitors, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference, got the night’s only goal about 12 minutes into the match when Louisville’s top scorer, Magnus Rasmussen, scored on a leftfooted blast from the top of the box after receiving a pass from Napo Matsoso. It’s the team-leading 11th goal of the season for Rasmussen.
Louisville had a chance to add to its lead a few minutes later. Following an STLFC corner, the visitors used a counter-attack for a three-on-one break. But the lone STLFC defender back, Bradley Kamdem-Fewo, came up with the key defensive stop.
STLFC created its best first-half scoring chance midway through the half on an overlapping run by Kamdem-Fewo, who beat the last Louisville defender after receiving a pass from Russell Cicerone and moved in alone on the left side. But his near-side shot went wide.
In the 32nd minute, after running onto a cross from Niall McCabe, Louisville’s Sean Totsch headed a ball off the top of the cross bar.
Just before halftime, STLFC keeper Tomas Gomez came up with a big-time stop against Louisville’s Brian Ownby to keep the deficit at one goal.
In the 76th minute, STLFC created its best scoring chance of the second half when Tyler Blackwood’s header was pushed wide by Louisville keeper Chris Hubbard. Reserve Masta Kacher created the chance with a cross from the left wing.
“That save is world class,” Pulis said. “We just watched it; it’s a phenomenal save. It’s a great ball in and Tyler headed it down perfectly into the corner and (Hubbard) makes a wonderful save.”
Blackwood, who wasn’t happy with his overall play in the loss, added: “I saw the cross come in, made eye contact with Masta, and as (the ball) went into the flood lights, I lost it completely. I felt it hit my head and then I saw the ball go off the keeper’s wrist. Honestly, having a bad game like I did, getting that one chance and seeing him make the stop, it’s just frustrating.”
On a late scramble, STLFC reserve Guy Abend put a header toward the goal, but Hubbard made the stop.
“Obviously, at home, it hurts a little bit more,” Kacher said of the loss. “But I thought we competed well in the second half and hopefully we can carry that over into Wednesday’s game. Coming off the bench, you want to make an impact.”
EASTERN SHOWDOWNThe teams chasing STLFC in the Eastern Conference playoff race, 10th-place Birmingham Legion FC (11-13-7) and the 11th-place Charleston Battery (9-9-13), squared off Saturday night in Alabama.
The game, delayed by lightning, ended in a scoreless draw, leaving both teams with 40 points. Ninth-place STLFC has 42 points.
The top 10 teams in each conference will reach the playoffs, with the No. 7 finisher hosting No. 10 and No. 8 hosting No. 9 in opening-round play.
In other Saturday action that could impact STLFC, North Carolina (15-9-8) beat New York Red Bulls II 2-0 to guarantee its spot in the playoffs, and Eastern Division-leading Pittsburgh (17-4-11) played to a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United 2.
STLFC, looking to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, will play at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Leesburg, Va., against 14th-place Loudon United FC (8-17-6). STLFC then hosts Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday before finishing the regular season Oct. 19 at seventh-place North Carolina FC.
MOMENT OF SILENCE
Before Saturday’s game, there was a moment of silence for Austin Bold player Promise Isaac, who died Wednesday apparently of a heart attack. The former Nigerian international was 31.
“The greatest loss a team can suffer is not on the scoreboard — it’s the death of a fellow teammate,” Austin Bold FC chairman Bobby Epstein said in a statement issued by the club.“It is with shock and grief that we acknowledge the sudden death of Promise Issac. On behalf of the Bold organization, we wish his wife, children and family strength and peace as they struggle to cope with his death.”CALLISTRI NAMED TO TEAM OF THE WEEKJoey Callistri, who played for STLFC last year, was named to the USL Championship team of the week. A midfielder now competing with Phoenix FC Rising, Callistri scored both goals and completed 13 of 16 passes after coming on as a reserve in a 2-2 draw against New Mexico United.
With six goals in 26 appearances, Callistri is fourth on Phoenix FC Rising (22-3-6), which is running away with the Western Conference regular-season title.
Last season, Callistri played in 32 games, made 25 starts with STLFC and scored five goals while picking up a pair of assists.